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For a fan of Asante Kotoko, it’s hardly surprising the significance of yesterday’s date — January 9 — was lost on me until an end-of-day social media recap.
Thankfully, I was spared the horrifying details, but not a summary and images which brought feelings of pain and of dejection I’d long exiled from my consciousness flooding back. Really, with Hearts of Oak supporters only too eager to rub it in a little each passing year, we’ve surely not heard the last of how they pipped Kotoko to maiden Caf Confederation Cup conquest on this day in 2005.
The proudest hour for Ghana football — the first time a country had produced both finalists for an African inter-club competition — proved arguably the saddest in Kotoko’s history and, without a doubt, a red-letter day for the enemy. It did hurt that on the aforementioned occasion — as in the first leg a week prior — Kotoko had netted first, before letting Hearts back into the tie, ultimately missing out on the title on their own turf via penalties; a second African final lost in three years, and a seventh overall.
This piece of writing, though, is not to rehash all that trauma (an awful lot, really), but analyzes the lasting damage the loss did to the Porcupine Warriors. Hearts did rain on Kotoko’s parade that fateful Sunday, picked the inaugural trophy, and reveled in their admittedly remarkable feat for as long as it felt good. And while all that is now water under the bridge, Kotoko has never really recovered from the blow suffered — not fully, anyway.
That squad, coached by German Hans Dieter Schmidt, was largely comprised of a brilliant group in its twilight, one that had narrowly lost the Cup Winners’ Cup final to WAC of Morocco not quite three years prior at the same venue. Victory against Hearts would have been a golden climax and, for the newer faces involved, a springboard for future glories. In many ways, then, it was a chance missed, creating a sense of loss in Kumasi that Kotoko has tirelessly sought in vain to fill.
It’s why coaches have been fired and boards dissolved with such frequency in the 14 years that have followed, despite Kotoko strengthening their domestic dominance. Had the club triumphed when they had the opportunity against Hearts, perhaps they wouldn’t be so frantic – even reckless — now in seeking another crack at continental honors. Image result for 2004 caf confederation cup final hearts kotokoMeanwhile, Hearts have continued to prove a thorn in Kotoko’s side, twisting the knife further into their archrivals at every turn. Just three months after the said final, Hearts deepened the misery by beating a reeling Kotoko for the league title. And even though Kotoko have since roared back to win the championship a few times afterwards, Hearts remain very much a bogey side.
Especially at their own backyard, when Hearts come to town, has Kotoko struggled. In all league visits since January 2005, Hearts have triumphed six times — the latest, last year, was settled by a solitary Patrick Razak strike — and drawn five. Even in the 2007/08 when Kotoko were at their strongest in recent memory and won the division by a whopping 16 points, they could only manage a 3-3 draw as Hearts’ hosts.
The challenge, it appears, is really psychological, and Kotoko’s thrashing Hearts 3-1 in the 2017 FA Cup decider — the pair’s first competitive final since the 2005 meeting — suggests that depressing corner could yet be turned. For now, though, the block still seems firmly in place and, if Kotoko are to make greater gains in the rivalry, it can’t be cleared soon enough.
Perhaps Kotoko’s consolation is in the fact that Hearts haven’t made the most of that edge, failing to maintain relevance in Africa while their fortunes on the local front dwindle startlingly, but until the Reds secure African pride for themselves — even if not at Hearts’ expense — those demons would probably never be banished.
The coming weekend would see Kotoko — twice champions of Africa — persist in that pursuit with a trip to Cameroon to play Coton Sport Garoua (incidentally the last opponents Hearts beat to book their ultimately successful final date versus Kotoko all those years ago) in a bid to reach the Confederation Cup’s group stage.
May they find closure or, even better, redemption.
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